Building a business case for investment in a coconut industry in the Pacific

Coconut diversity in the Pacific
Project code
AUD 149,967
Research program manager
Ms Irene Kernot
Project leader
Mr Cameron Turner, University of Queensland
MAR 2021
OCT 2021
Project status
Legally committed/Active
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This project aims to form a sophisticated understanding of the barriers to coconut replanting, and develop potential solutions that overcome these barriers to the satisfaction of smallholders.

Against the backdrop of increasing demand for coconut, it is estimated that well over 50% of the 1.3 million coconut trees in the Pacific are ‘senile’ or ‘unproductive’. The future of coconut production and the livelihoods it supports critically depends on replanting, which provides an opportunity not only to sustain production, but to increase it from its baseline through the introduction of higher yielding hybrids.

Despite ostensibly strong macroeconomic incentives to replant, research has consistently shown that “very little replanting has occurred [in the Pacific] in the last 3-4 decades”. Understanding the reasons behind the “apparent disinterest” in replanting has been described as a “key question” in Pacific Island Countries (PIC) coconut research and development. If global demand for coconut is increasing, why, then, do we not see a corresponding increase to production in the Pacific?

While growing the PIC coconut industry requires solving immense technical challenges (e.g. eradicating or reducing the impact of key pests, producing and distributing quality planting material, offsetting the effects of climate change), it also requires us to solve distinctly human and behavioural puzzles. Unless we have an understanding of what’s driving smallholder behaviour, and, critically, what’s preventing coconut replanting, the real-world impact of technical achievements will be dampened.

It is the ‘human’ element that is the focus of this project. Through the use of a Science-Based Lean LaunchPad methodology pioneered by Stanford University and the American National Science Foundation (NSF), this project will form a sophisticated understanding of the barriers to replanting, and develop potential solutions that overcome these barriers to the satisfaction of smallholders. If the Pacific is to take advantage of market tailwinds in order to grow (or even to sustain) the coconut industry, we need to be able to speak as fluently about the behavioural challenges as we do about the technical.

Expected project outcomes

  • Developing a strong evidence-base for ACIAR on the viability (or otherwise) of the coconut industry in the Pacific.
  • Building in-country capability in ethnographic research methodology.
Key partners
Fiji National University
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Samoa
Department of Industry, Vanuatu
Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji